Malls are dying, or so they tell us. But from the ashes of malls, apparently, rise malls. Not long ago, it was announced that in addition to a fancy new Regal Cinemas in the old Sears space in Lloyd Center Mall, the now-vacant third floor of Nordstrom would be turned into a music venue by Live Nation, the ubiquitous concert event company. More apartments are meant to go up on the site of the old theater across the street from Lloyd Center—not to be confused with the already long-shuttered theater in the mall.
Change comes for every neighborhood in a growing city, but it’s hard to imagine the Lloyd district doing anything but what it’s been doing for decades: barely hanging on, living a hollowed-out dream of a retail economy.
When I was a kid, my dad lived in the Lloyd district. Many years later, I did a stint in a green apron at a popular coffee shop inside the mall. Turns out the Lloyd Center in the dark before dawn was exactly as surreal as I remembered it being as a child.
Feeling nostalgic for a neighborhood that always seems to be on the brink, I grabbed some friends and took a walk from Black Water to the Rose and Thistle. Each bar we stopped at was a time capsule, making the street feel like a jumbled timeline of Portland culture.
Black Water (835 NE Broadway) was a strange place to start the night: an all-ages punk and metal venue/bar that’s been kicking around different locations since 2008. Gothed out and torn up, Black Water is full of both squeaky kids and creaky olds and is, of course, vegan as fuck. An all-ages punk venue doesn’t need to have the best cheap drinks on Broadway, but Black Water does anyway, so cozy up to an $8 pint of cucumber margarita, or a beer from a surprisingly deep taplist, and settle in for a lineup of bands with names like Body Shame, Social Stomach, and Caustic Touch. (Shout out to Social Stomach, the only band we managed to catch that night, who locked us into a deep trance immediately and proceeded to sonically beat the shit out of us for 20 minutes.)
Closer to the mall, you hit some newer developments, like an outpost of faux-fun mega-chain Buffalo Wild Wings and the accurately named Prime Rib + Chocolate Cake, which is inexplicably not a chain—though you’d hardly know you weren’t in an Applebees, Outback Steakhouse, or some other timeless-by-design family restaurant. The prime rib is exactly as expected (passable and in huge portions), but the panko-fried bacon is something like a jar of flattened corndogs, which I guess is either your thing or it isn’t.
McMenamins has been at 1504 NE Broadway since 1990, but is so anachronistic it’s impossible to tell if anything has changed there in nearly 30 years. Lofted above storefronts, decorated in McMenamins’ signature manic style, and with a jungle’s worth of plants, a cozy covered patio, and live classical music every last Wednesday, it’s notable as the bizarro inverse of Black Water.
Capitol (1440 NE Broadway) brings a very 2017 prettiness to the neighborhood, with its beautiful bar, colorful walls, and actual cocktails, but there’s something about the neighborhood that makes karaoke feel unnecessary: Why go to Capitol to sing when you’re walking through the hits of yesteryear just outside?
Soon Capitol will doubtless seem like a 2017-themed bar, the way Swift Lounge (1932 NE Broadway) seems like a 2007-themed bar, a proto-Portlandian bird-adorned hole in the wall that’s still house-infusing liquor, dumping cocktails into mason jars, and doing it all at breakneck speed because they pack the house every night. Maybe it’s the impressive spice on the habanero tequila (or the $9, 32oz option of those mason jars).
I asked my dad, who lived in the Lloyd district back in olden times, where he drank back then, and while he claims not to have gone out much, he had fond memories of the Rose and Thistle. I have fond memories of the Rose and Thistle (2314 NE Broadway), the bar just far enough away from where I briefly worked in the mall to stop in for a drink after an early morning shift. But even if you’ve never been to the RAT, you have fond memories of the place. It’s the original bar: the hangout, the place with beers and Fernet and tater tots. And darts. On that patio, nestled between buildings, the Lloyd time warp is at its strongest—it might be 2018, it might be 2012, it might be 1993 or 1776 or the Dark Ages.
The past is so present in the Lloyd district that I have to actively remind myself I spent much of my childhood there. Storefronts disappear and are replaced, yet nothing seems to change. I have no doubt it won’t be long before the street performs that same shellac magic on the new theater and music venue, immortalizing the vibe of the corporate arts in 2018. I can’t wait, but Lloyd’s got nothing but time.